On June 2, 2009, we at Irregular Times withdrew from one of the two ways of selling shirts, bumper stickers and buttons at the online merchandiser CafePress. On June 1, CafePress started charging customers more and (paying its graphic designers less) when purchases were made via their search engine they call the “Marketplace.” We didn’t like those changes, so instead of just whining about it, we withdrew our participation in the CafePress Marketplace. For eight days, we have only been selling our liberal gear through our individual shop, where we’ve set our prices lower and made a bit more ourselves in commission to boot.
I’m telling you this because our withdrawal from the Marketplace system has exposed, and allowed us to document, a significant error in the CafePress Sales Reports. CafePress is erroneously marking sales made through shops as “Marketplace” sales. These errors result in reduced payments to graphic designers and increased profits to CafePress itself. If you earn your living by making sales through CafePress, I urge you in the strongest terms to track the paths of your sales, document any errors you find, and share your documentation with CafePress and the public.
My documentation follows below.
At 8:30 AM yesterday (June 9, 2009), I noticed the following sale reported in the CafePress Sales Report for Irregular Times:
I’ve deleted customers’ names for the sake of their privacy, and I’ve highlighted the order in question. Otherwise, this and subsequent screen captures are unaltered.
There are a few things wrong with this order. First, the reported sale price for the bumper sticker is $7.00, a high price that we have never posted for CafePress and that CafePress itself does not even charge on its Marketplace (CafePress’ own pre-set charge is $5.00). Second, the reported source for the sale is the CafePress Marketplace.
You can document for yourself that this bumper sticker is not available on the CafePress Marketplace. The way to see all the items from a particular shop that are up on the marketplace is to follow the form:
Where “i_love_shirts” is the name of a CafePress shop. Go ahead, try cutting and pasting that sample URL in and you’ll see what I mean. Then change “i_love_shirts” to “irregulargoods,” the name of our Irregular Times CafePress shop. When you put
into your browser’s address box, you’ll see this:
Go ahead and use the CafePress search box you see in the upper left-hand corner of the image above. As you’ll see, this bumper sticker from Irregular Goods isn’t available on the marketplace (you’ll find others, from other shopkeepers, using the same quote, but not this one).
Bottom line: this bumper sticker is not available on the CafePress Marketplace. The entire shop “irregulargoods” is off the Marketplace. And yet this sale is being shown, at an incorrect price, as a Marketplace sale.
At 9:05 AM, I called the CafePress service line (1-877-809-1659) to report this error. The customer service representative on the other end of the line replied to agree that the shop “irregulargoods” had been taken off the Marketplace. When I asked how this could possibly have happened, the customer service representative replied: “Oh, well someone could have bought something before your change last week and then it could have stayed in their cart for a while, and then they could have finished the sale today.” This seemed pretty far-fetched to me, so I asked for CafePress to check back on the history of that particular sale and see if that was what happened, or if there had been a mistake in the CafePress Sales Report. The customer service representative for CafePress agreed this would be done, and told me I would receive a response by phone or e-mail later that day.
I actually didn’t receive any contact from CafePress during the day, and when I logged back into CafePress.com yesterday evening to check my account, I noticed the following additional sales report:
Again, I’ve covered up the names of the people ordering for their privacy’s sake. This time, someone ordered item 223982475, an “Earth for Obama bumper sticker,” from the shop “irregulargoods.” And again, it showed up as a Marketplace order, when this is not possible. You can find this bumper sticker for sale off the Marketplace, in our non-Marketplace shop. But as I’ve stated before, we opted “irregulargoods” out of the Marketplace system on June 2, eight days ago. I immediately made a Google search for “Earth for Obama bumper sticker,” and I did find this result leading to the CafePress Marketplace:
As you can see from the URL, the link refers to the same product number: 223982475. But upon clicking that link (a link that’s there because Google hasn’t reindexed all of cafepress.com yet), I obtained the following 404 web page from CafePress:
There you have it: the item is verified off the Marketplace — as it was taken off the Marketplace on June 2 — and yet we here we have the CafePress Sales Report indicating a “Marketplace” sale. As with the Ben Franklin bumper sticker, a search of the CafePress Marketplace through the search box can find no trace of this bumper sticker being offered.
Why am I obsessing over this? “Marketplace” sales, I should remind you, cost the customer more while earning CafePress more profit and the graphic designer less pay. When the “Earth for Obama” bumper sticker was sold as a “Marketplace” sale, according to this Sales Report, we at Irregular Times pocketed $0.50, CafePress pocketed $4.50, and the customer shelled out $5.00. If the “Earth for Obama” bumper sticker was credited as sold via our Shop, we at Irregular Times would pocket $1.16, CafePress would pocket $3.49, and the customer would have to shell out $4.65.
Now, I’m not too proud to admit I’m strapped for cash in these difficult economic times. Still, the difference for one bumper sticker sale — 35 cents more in cost to the customer, 66 cents less paid out to me and $1.51 more in profit for CafePress — hardly seems scandalous. This sort of money won’t keep gramma’s home from being foreclosed. But that’s one sale. CafePress doesn’t make just one sale every day, and I’m not the only shopkeeper out there. If there are ten thousand of these mistakes made every day, that makes CafePress an extra $15,100, it keeps an extra $6,600 out of the pockets of graphic designers, and it results in overcharges of $3,500 to customers. That would be the daily tally. If these errors persisted over a 30-day month, that would make CafePress an extra $453,000, it would keep an extra $198,000 out of the pockets of graphic designers, and it would result in overcharges of $105,000 to customers. That’s not chump change.
I must stress that those latter figures are hypothetical; the only numbers I know for sure are the numbers I’ve shown you for our particular shop. But for some time now there have been complaints without documentation that sales have been improperly marked as Marketplace sales when they actually occurred through shops. I’m being obsessive in order to thoroughly document that a problem people have been describing for many months is actually present. I think I’ve established that this is the case.
At 7:30 pm yesterday evening, I called the CafePress service line. I noted the new problem, and over the phone I described the same level of documentation to them that I’ve shown graphically to you. I was put on long hold. When the service representative returned to the phone after conferring with others, I was given a wholly new different account for the discrepancy. Basically, CafePress admitted they have errors in their Sales Reports. The following are quotes I wrote down as the service representative said them to me last night:
“We have an issue with some of the sales being marked as Marketplace sales when they were really shop sales…. It’s going to go back to the beginning of June.”
“We’re really sorry about all of the problems.”
“Give us about 24-48 hours to fix it.”
Status: As of this moment, 30 hours after I first reported the errors, the CafePress Sales Report errors on my account have not been rectified. I’ll write an update if and when the errors have been rectified, or 18 hours from now, whichever comes first.
If you are a CafePress customer, and you made an order through a shop that ended up giving you a final, higher cost than what you were first shown, gather documentation for this change, call the CafePress service line (1-877-809-1659) to report the issue, and also share your experience publicly here.
If you are a CafePress shopkeeper, and you see an order on your Sales Report that appears as a “Marketplace” sale but you know is actually a shop sale, gather documentation for this error, call the CafePress service line (1-877-809-1659) to report the issue, and yes, share your experience — with documentation — here.
Let us not speak of motivations or purposes, since those are unobserved and it is difficult to establish malicious intent where none may exist. Let’s instead focus on documented behavior, on what has demonstrably occurred. Please restrict your comments to the domain of that which you can show to be true.
A business like CafePress runs on trust between customers, designers and the corporation itself. That trust was strained when CafePress changed the terms of its relationship to its own benefit and to the detriment of customers and designers. That trust is broken when CafePress fails — again to its own benefit and to the detriment of customers and designers — to accurately report the nature and terms of sales. If that trust is to be restored, an accurate accounting of just what is going on behind the curtain at CafePress is essential. Please help me to obtain that accurate account.